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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Ben Pope

Ranking the Blackhawks’ top 20 prospects entering the 2023-24 season

New draft picks Connor Bedard (left) and Oliver Moore (right) rank No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the Hawks’ prospect pool. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Blackhawks’ prospect pool just keeps getting better and deeper.

A few years ago, it was challenging to identify 10 prospects with exciting NHL potential. Now, a list of the top 20 leaves off a number of notable players who barely miss the cut.

That’s a reflection of the Hawks having made 11 picks in each of the last two drafts — with most of those picks coming in the first three rounds — and a testament to the effectiveness (so far) of general manager Kyle Davidson’s full-scale rebuild.

These rankings, as always, are determined partially by upside and partially by NHL readiness. Since last summer’s rankings, Lukas Reichel (formerly No. 1) has graduated out of “prospect” status, as he became a full-time NHL forward in the latter half of this past season.

No. 1. Connor Bedard, forward, age 18

Bedard’s stay on these rankings will be brief. By this time next year, he’ll be long removed from prospect status — and probably be one of the Hawks’ best players. For now, though, he’s not only the Hawks’ top prospect but also the top prospect league-wide.

No. 2. Kevin Korchinski, defenseman, age 19

Korchinski may also soon leave these rankings — he could prove in camp that he’s ready for the NHL full-time — but it’s also possible he winds up with Seattle (in the WHL) for one more season. The 2022 seventh overall pick is one of the best offensive defenseman prospects league-wide.

No. 3. Oliver Moore, forward, age 18

The Hawks were thrilled to land Moore with the 19th pick this summer. His elite skating ability makes him another major building block in their rebuild, as he’ll likely be a top-six NHL forward in a few years. He’s headed to the University of Minnesota.

No. 4. Frank Nazar, forward, age 19

Hip surgery limited Nazar to 13 games last season, meaning he’ll head back to Michigan for a second college season in 2023-24. Thus, his timeline has been delayed slightly since being drafted 13th overall last summer, but he remains a highly touted prospect.

No. 5. Alex Vlasic, defenseman, age 22

Vlasic is another man penned into an NHL roster spot this season after building confidence at the pro level in Rockford last season. The 6-6 Wilmette native, a 2019 second-round pick, could play regularly alongside Seth Jones or Connor Murphy.

No. 6. Arvid Soderblom, goaltender, age 23

Soderblom, too, can expect to be in the NHL full-time this season. His subpar stats in 15 NHL appearances last season don’t reflect his true ability. He has dominated the AHL, possesses all the tools to excel in the NHL and could even surpass Petr Mrazek as the Hawks’ “1A” goalie.

No. 7. Drew Commesso, goaltender, age 21

Commesso will play for Rockford this season after posting consistent save percentages of .915, .914, .913 and .913 in his four seasons at Boston University. The 2020 second-round pick boasts strong NHL upside but is a couple years behind Soderblom on the development curve.

No. 8. Wyatt Kaiser, defenseman, age 21

Kaiser held his own in his first nine NHL games this past spring and will compete for a full-time spot this season. The 2020 third-round pick and Minnesota-Duluth product brings a balance of offense and defense that could fill a variety of roles in the Hawks’ defensive depth chart.

No. 9. Cole Guttman, forward, age 24

Guttman doesn’t possess the same high-level upside that the top eight prospects do. But if not for a shoulder injury cutting his 2022-23 season short after 14 impressive NHL games, he might not have even qualified as a prospect anymore. His work ethic makes him a perfect glue guy.

No. 10. Sam Rinzel, defenseman, age 19

Rinzel’s situation is the opposite of Guttman’s, and not just because of their positions. Rinzel — the 25th overall pick last summer — remains probably three years away from the NHL as he heads to Minnesota. If everything goes right, though, it’s possible he could one day be a top-pairing defenseman.

No. 11. Colton Dach, forward, age 20

Numerous injuries made it difficult to accurately evaluate Dach’s 2022-23 season with Seattle (WHL), but how he performs in Rockford this season should be more telling.

No. 12. Ryan Greene, forward, age 19

Greene significantly exceeded expectations as a freshman at Boston University last season, producing 31 points in 38 games. If he continues on this trajectory, he could turn out to be a steal at 57th overall in 2022.

No. 13. Roman Kantserov, forward, age 18

The Hawks used this year’s 44th pick on Kantserov, whom most projected to go later than that, because of his speed and shot. His 5-9 frame hasn’t hindered him in Russian juniors but he’s many years away from the NHL. He has one year left on his contract with Magnitogorsk (KHL).

No. 14. Isaak Phillips, defenseman, age 21

Phillips will compete for an NHL job this season after making 16 appearances last season. He’ll probably never be more than a third-pairing guy, but he has panned out very well for a 2020 fifth-round pick and he’s younger than he seems.

No. 15. Nolan Allan, defenseman, age 20

The Hawks reached to take Allan with their 2021 first-round pick, but he has made that pick look less ill-advised as time has gone on. The Hawks will try shifting him to the right side in Rockford this season, which could open up his path to the NHL.

No. 16. Ethan Del Mastro, defenseman, age 20

Del Mastro was quite productive last season for Sarnia (OHL) considering he’s a hulking 6-4 defenseman. It will be interesting how much the 2021 fourth-rounder translates that offense to the AHL level this season.

No. 17. Ilya Safonov, forward, age 22

The Hawks are quietly excited about Safonov, their 2021 sixth-round pick who exploded into a star in Russia last season. He has two years left on his contract with Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL) but he’s definitely worth watching.

No. 18. Paul Ludwinski, forward, age 19

Last season was generally status quo for Ludwinski, the 39th overall pick in 2022. He’s a defensively reliable center who will serve as a captain this season for Kingston (OHL).

No. 19. Gavin Hayes, forward, age 19

Hayes, the 66th pick in 2022, enjoyed a very productive season with 81 points for Flint (OHL). The Hawks’ biggest focus for him is gaining weight and strength.

No. 20. Martin Misiak, forward, age 18

Misiak jumped from Slovakia to the USHL last season, but he’s bound for Erie in the OHL this season.

Misiak, Kantserov and many of the Hawks’ other day-two picks in this year’s draft (Adam Gajan, Nick Lardis, Jiri Felcman, Alex Pharand and Marcel Marcel in particular) are worth watching, but their distance from NHL readiness hurt their cause in these rankings.

Just missed the cut: Adam Gajan (goaltender, 18); Jaxson Stauber (goaltender, 24); Samuel Savoie (forward, 19); Landon Slaggert (forward, 21); Ryder Rolston (forward, 21); Jalen Luypen (forward, 21); Dominic James (forward, 21); Louis Crevier (defenseman, 22)

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